Review: Hanna (2011)
Joe Wright's Hanna is a severe case of the emperor's new clothes. There is literally nothing interesting, complex, dramatic or worthwhile to see here, perhaps with the exception of a few modestly effective scenes totally undercut by everything else in the movie. It's an action movie without rhythm, a story without weight, a completely fruitless exercise in terseness so closemouthed one is forced brutally to the conclusion that it has absolutely nothing to say for itself, about itself or about anything else.
Hanna stars the enormously effective young actress Saoirse Ronan as Hanna, a young girl growing up in the snowy Northlands with her father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana doing an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression, apparently because the filmmakers were not brave enough to animate a young Schwarzenegger themselves, à la Terminator Salvation). It makes perfect sense as we go along that he has trained her to fight and kill without pity, as news of her existence is set to prompt desperate and dedicated efforts against her survival. He allows her to decide the timing of the release of that news.
Period, end of sentence. Having now told you every intricacy of the plot, please be forewarned that this review may contain spoilers, such as they are. Continue reading at your own risk and/or pleasure. But again, I already told you the whole story with the set-up, perhaps saving lucky readers who understand how truly literal I can be 111 minutes.
Wright directed actress Ronan to an Oscar nomination for her role in his previous, outstanding feature, Atonement, based upon Ian McEwan's excellent novel. I haven't seen any of Wright's other movies or other works. I have seen three other Saoirse Ronan movies since, City of Ember and the very good The Lovely Bones and The Way Back. So based upon the strengths of these, and a pretty slick and intriguing trailer for Hanna, I was somewhat excited to see his version of an action movie featuring a young girl made by outside forces to defend her life and individual integrity using the same skills against her opponents as they would use against her.
Instead, Hanna is a desultory, boring version of "Snow White," "Red Riding Hood," Frankenstein, Ang Lee's Hulk (also starring Bana) or Stephen King's novels and stories about The Shop. If it's actually a spare and elemental criticism of black ops, MK-Ultra, undercover government-sponsored assassinations or anything, I must have missed it. I'm sure our public officials will feel dutifully chastised. It has plot similarities to my top film of last year, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but a distinct lack of the mystery, originality and grander vision of that film.
I'm not opposed to the violence in the film, though it is not particularly well done intellectually or visually. Additionally, the film comes across as respectful of women at some baseline level of acceptability (at least in the context of a strangely, vaguely anti-woman screenplay), mostly simply from Ronan's screen presence combined with her character's predicament. Yet it feels almost random that this is so. Erik Heller tells Hanna to kill Cate Blanchett's Marissa Veigler, not because Veigler is a woman, or a woman he hates because she's a woman, but because he knows Veigler will try to kill Hanna, and keep the killing of Hanna "contained," meaning killing Veigler may be the only loose end necessary to tie up to save Hanna's life. Veigler is not evil because she's particularly anti-woman, nor because has a thirst for Hanna's blood, but because she's caught up in years of covert wrongdoing.
We see other women with different realities from Veigler and Hanna who are more complex and beautiful in their actions and emotions. On the whole, however, I found the film dismissive of women's points of view simply from the fact that the film is stupid, and runs right over any possibly interesting developments for its woman characters. So my main objection to Hanna is its deep and utter vapidity, lack of interest, surprise, drama, kinetic achievement, message. I won't stand against the metaphor that parents prepare their children for the world the best they can, and then must stand back, be optimistic and await any results. But when that's all that's presented, it's nothing more than a long-winded cookie fortune which will stick with the recipient about as long as such a cookie's bland aftertaste.
Tom Hollander plays Isaacs, Veigler's co-villain, a hitman and nightclub owner whom, I would guess, is the cousin of the orderly played by Oscar Isaacs in Sucker Punch. His character is supposed, I surmise, to be evil incarnate, maybe even threatening, but as the film goes he's a weak, pointless, drab and ineffectual nothing who whistles the weak, pointless, drab and ineffectual Chemical Brothers theme.
Hanna is a movie so bad that if it were to survive to some future time as the only complete representative example of the filmmaking art, historians would be forced to conclude that film was indeed a failed experiment overall. Some may insist on watching it, and I was in their place a few short days ago, so I do sympathize, and add my warning. You might not heed it, but I feel that at some point you may thank me for caring, and warning against it. This movie is walking around intellectually undressed in fact and kinetically and dramatically bankrupt. If the goal is to suck all the life, danger and energy out of a righteous and inevitable revenge story, here is Hanna.
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